Jerry Brown: String of economic successes fuel buzz about a fourth term

Gov. Jerry Brown's success in overcoming a massive state deficit and pulling California's economy out of the doldrums has set him on a roll for a fourth term in 2014.

Carolyne Corelis/U-T San Diego/AP/File
California Gov. Jerry Brown visits Takeda, a biotech firm, in San Diego, where he signed legislation on July 11 overhauling an economic development program in a bid to encourage manufacturing and job growth in California.

Defying expectations, California Gov. Jerry Brown faced down a massive state deficit, convinced voters to approve new taxes, and overhauled school finances and the state's vast prison system.

With nearly the highest poll ratings since his 2010 election, he's in a strong position to win a fourth term in 2014, should he decide to run.

“Brown has been on a roll,” says Dan Walters, the state’s premiere political columnist in the Sacramento Bee. “Brown will almost certainly run for a fourth term next year, and few political handicappers doubt that he will win."

The Field Poll, released Wednesday, shows Governor Brown with a 51 percent job approval rating. A 43 percent plurality support his reelection with 38 percent opposed and 19 percent undecided. Mr. Walters says Brown can coast to reelection and spend his final term “securing his place in the history books” – and other analysts don’t disagree.

“The latest polling data tell us that voters in California not only approve of his approach, but are also willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,” says David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University.

“While 51 percent approval is not a high water mark for this guy, it is a nice place to be and a place that will only get stronger as the economy of the state recovers. And if he can turn California, Jerry is on the national stage to jet around and talk about what he did here that can work in other places," he adds.

What's driving confidence in Brown is his success in reversing California's economic doldrums, says Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. These economic accomplishment include: minimizing raises in state government wages, cutting contracts, restructuring the state redevelopment agency, and building up rainy day funds, with the support of a strong, Democratic two-house majority. 

After serving as governor from 1975-83, then as attorney general and mayor of Oakland, Brown is capitalizing fully on his own experience in knowing what needs are from other points of view, she says.

“He knows and has enforced a rigor that most governors cannot do. He knows what things work from a city perspective and from a three-state office perspective.”

Brown’s success has also been noticed beyond the state’s borders.

“Given the many challenges Governor Brown has faced during his terms, he has to be heartened by his job approval in this poll,” says Steve Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

“The state's finances have markedly improved and he has yet to attract a formidable GOP challenger. He has clearly not worn out his welcome with Californians. A 51 percent approval ratings is better than that of many incumbent governors. Despite uncertain economic times, Brown is in good shape for reelection at this early point in the campaign cycle," he adds.

While some say Brown could still falter on big picture plans such as a bullet train and water tunnels to be dug under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Walters thinks those negatives might not show up for years, until Brown is out of office.

But others say, Brown needs to stay on top of his game and even get better.

“The governor has to be more organized, more on point, and a better communicator within the Democratic caucus and among those in the Legislature that want to see him succeed,” says McCuan. “His think-big-and-be-bold strategy is going to require better coordination with legislative leaders as they face their own set of term-limited decisions about what comes next for them.”

Brown’s tactics from here are going to require much clearer thinking about goals and how to achieve them, he adds.

“His legislative supporters will want to see this and be more intimately involved in the details. The days of Jerry going solo are out. He has to coordinate better dancing among the political stars to make his ideas work.”

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